9/11: An Infamous Day in America's History

Contributor: Stefani Allegretti. Lesson ID: 13237

Never forget September 11, 2001. Learn about the events of the worst terrorist attack in American history as well as the courage and bravery shown in our darkest hour.


People and Their Environment, United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


September 11, 2001 began as a typical day in the United States of America. Americans woke up, got dressed, and went to work or school. No one expected this day to be the day that the worst terrorist attack in American history would occur.

On this dark day, thousands of Americans lost their lives in a coordinated attack led by Islamic terrorists who were members of the terrorist group al-Qa'ida.

overview of New York after the north tower was hit

Image courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons, has no known copyright restrictions.

In order to really understand 9/11, we're going to explore the 5 W's of 9/11:

  • who
  • what
  • when
  • where
  • why

But first, let's watch the History Channel video, 9/11 Timeline: The Attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City | History:

Let's break down what you saw in this video. We'll begin with learning about where the attacks took place on September 11, 2001.

Where did the attacks happen?

The attacks on 9/11 happened in the United States in New York City, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. More specifically, the Pentagon in Virginia was attacked, and the Twin Towers, part of the World Trade Center complex, were attacked in New York City.

When did the attacks happen?

The attacks happened at different times on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

What happened?

On September 11, 2001, a group of 19 Islamic terrorists disguised as pilots hijacked four different commercial airplanes at three different airports located on the East Coast of the United States.

One of the airplanes was flown directly into the North Twin Tower in New York City. The second airplane hit the South Twin Tower a few moments later. The impact of the planes hitting the towers, and the fact that they were loaded with jet fuel, caused massive explosions, and eventually the Twin Towers fell.

aerial view of the Pentagon

The next attack was at the Pentagon military headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. While the Pentagon, home of the United States Department of Defense, was damaged, it was not destroyed.

The fourth airplane, United Flight 93, has a very different story. It is believed that the terrorists planned to crash this airplane into the White House or other important sites in the nation's capital. However, when the passengers realized what was happening, they fought back against the terrorist pilots, overtook them, and crashed the plane near Shanksville, Pennsylvania in an open field.

Shanksville, Pennsylvania memorial site

These courageous men and women lost their lives in the process; however, their sacrifice potentially saved thousands more and significantly thwarted the terrorists' plans.

Even on one of the darkest days of American history, a ray of hope and light cast through the darkness with this heroic act of love, bravery, and sacrifice. Take a moment to watch this documentary by the Flight 93 National Memorial organization.

The Story of Flight 93:

Why did it happen?

Islamic terrorists and members of al-Qa'ida follow an ideology that is in direct opposition to American beliefs and values of justice, liberty, freedom of religion, the pursuit of happiness, gender equality, and more. They seek to destroy as many people as they can who do not adhere to their ideology and religion, which is why the American military has been fighting a war against them for many years.

Who was affected?

Close to 3,000 innocent Americans lost their lives on this fateful day. Some of the victims of 9/11 were passengers on the hijacked airplanes. You can read more about these people in The Planes, by Eric Benson for New York Magazine.

Other victims were working in the Twin Towers. Many victims were brave firefighters, first responders, or police officers. Some victims were military members, and still others were civilians who worked at the Pentagon.

World Trade Center aftermath

Image courtesy of the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress has no known copyright restrictions.

However, it's important to note that all Americans were attacked on this day, along with the American way of life and American beliefs of freedom, liberty, and justice for all.

America is called the land of the free and the home of the brave. The actions of the brave men and women on Flight 93 and the many firefighters and police officers who lost their lives trying to save others serve as a testament to those truths. Despite this attack and others before it, the United States of America has endured.

In the words of U.S. President John F. Kennedy during his 1961 inaugural address:

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

Let's move on to the Got It? section now and test your knowledge about this infamous day in America's history.

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